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Thursday, September 16, 2021

With a Handful of Upcoming Openings, Speakeasies and Lounges Are Making a Comeback in Cleveland

Posted By on Thu, Sep 16, 2021 at 9:22 AM

click to enlarge Cassidy Room at Smokey's BBQ & Saloon - COURTESY JILLIAN WOLSTEIN
  • Courtesy Jillian Wolstein
  • Cassidy Room at Smokey's BBQ & Saloon

It used to be that restaurant owners would be content to carve out a small space in the main dining room for a bar and handful of stools. These days, operators are going well beyond those old-fashioned strategies in favor of entirely separate lounges that sit adjacent to, below, above or in the rear of the restaurant. These modern-day speakeasies provide guests with an atmosphere and food and beverage program that is different from the restaurant, while opening up a new revenue stream in the form of private events.

1330 on the River is expected to open in the former East End space on the East Bank of the Flats later this month. There, Zaman "Zeek" Khan will run a scratch kitchen serving eclectic dishes in a rustic space with stellar views. But it’s the basement speakeasy that the chef can’t wait to share. Located at river level, Compass Speakeasy will boast a patio and bar that kisses the water’s edge and garage doors that will shield the indoor portion during the off season.

“It’s nice to have a separate bar attached to a restaurant where guests can get away and have a different experience,” says Khan. “Upstairs we can keep the focus on my scratch kitchen, but downstairs will focus more on the drinks, so it’s a nice split.”

In addition to providing a different vibe from the main restaurant, Compass and spots like it can offer cocktails and high-end spirits that might be better suited to a lounge than a restaurant.

Jillian Wolstein and her business partner Scott Wolstein continue to reshape the Flats in ways large and small. Next up is Smokey’s BBQ & Saloon, a Texas-style roadhouse with a country and western theme. Guests who’ve had enough of the smoked turkey legs, mechanical bull and live fiddling can escape to the Sundance Lounge. Billed as “the highest riverside point” on the East Bank, this rooftop bar will offer prime sunset views alongside inventive cocktails and small plates. Those looking for a more exclusive hideaway can slip into the adjacent Cassidy Room, an intimate cigar lounge featuring select spirits.

“It’s just like fashion,” spokesperson Lauren Pepple says of the cigar-bar flashback. “It’s like the `90s are back right now. People are looking for something different and I think that there’s a unique way to do it for Cleveland. There’s a market for different experiences; you don’t want to do the same things over and over again.”

When it opens this fall in Ohio City, Amba will attract steady crowds for its creative Indian-inspired fare, but owner Doug Katz wants his new neighbors to consider visiting the property even when they aren’t dining. That’s why he’s setting aside an adjoining space for A Bar, a well-appointed lounge that rises well above “waiting room with drinks.”

“We wanted to create a bar next to Amba that would give you other reasons to come as opposed to just dining,” Katz explains. “It will be a fun, casual meeting place for you and your friends that offers a different atmosphere from the restaurant experience.”

Goma has been open a short three months, but already it has become a huge attraction on East Fourth Street. But owner Dante Boccuzzi still has an ace up his sleeve: Giappone, his take on a Japanese craft cocktail club that will open below ground. When the speakeasy is ready for primetime, it will serve up spirits and entertainment to an exclusive crowd. The space will be "hard to get into," promises Boccuzzi.

Down the block at Indie, which is coming together nicely in the former Greenhouse Tavern space, owners Gabriel Zeller and Julie Mesenburg are setting aside some dining space for a VIP lounge. What was previously known as the rear mezzanine has been sealed off from the restaurant at large and will be called E4SE, shorthand for East Fourth Speakeasy.

“As customers, when Julie and I go out of town, we seek out these kinds of places, so creating our own was kind of a no-brainer,” Zeller explains. “It’s very private compared to the main dining room. With the rooftop, we will have three different concepts in the same premises.”

The dark, clubby environment will seat fewer than 20 guests and feature a spirits selection that is different from the restaurant below.

Zdenko Zovkic recently shuttered the Warehouse District mainstay XO Prime Steaks, but he will soon open Jade, a multi-level restaurant on the East Bank of the Flats. Like his neighbors at Smokey’s, Zovkic is reserving the rooftop space for something special.

When it opens in the coming weeks, Jade will offer guests a different experience on each of three levels. The main floor will be a stylish but casual sushi bar, whereas the second level will be more upscale. Up top will be Jade Social, an exclusive, semi-private rooftop lounge with cabanas, dining and live music. Down the road, only those with a membership will have access to the club.

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